Which, once again, means it’s time to grab an orange and white baseball bat, slip on a checkerboard blindfold, and bash the pinata of Tennessee Vols-related thoughts that are rattling around inside my noggin.
1) The Vols escaped their 59-3 thrashing of UConn without any season altering injuries. And they played hard for 60 minutes. The biggest of missions accomplished there, IMHO.
2) The game was basically a glorified scrimmage for UT on both sides of the ball. First, the offense, which really clicked in all phases. The most encouraging thing for me was seeing Joe Milton and his receivers in very good rhythm. The wide open touchdown to Ramel Keyton was the easiest throw of Joe’s life, but he didn’t airmail it or way underthrow it. And the touchdown to Squirrel White was absolutely perfect. A deep in route, and Joe couldn’t have handed it to him more perfectly in stride than what he did with his throw.
3) THAT looked like Tennessee’s 2022 offense. Yes, yes, it was UConn. I know. I don’t need that pointed out to me in the comments. WHY I’m impressed is that it was schemed well (i.e., Keyton’s touchdown), and it was executed with precision and timing. The ground game was bully ball as well. Just perfectly done.
4) The defense scored three times (a school record) and harassed UConn’s quarterback all game long. After the first quarter field goal drive, UT’s defense was an absolute buzzsaw. What else is there to say? It was as good as anyone possibly could have hoped for.
5) Nico Iamaleava got some reps (as I mentioned in my Friday piece that I hoped he would) and he showed what he could do. He had a 25-yard run to move the sticks on third down and threw a dart to McCallan Castles for his first career touchdown. Small sample size, weak opponent, but he still gave a lot of reason to be giddy about the future with his skillset.
6) That was a weirdly-chippy game. It looked like Jim Mora, Jr. gave Josh Heupel the drive-by handshake and said something that caused the Vols’ coach to turn back and smirk at him. Omarr Norman-Lott also ran through the UConn players leaving the field while waving the Power T flag. And that was all after Heupel and the Vols had to confront and force the UConn players to go to their side of the field during warmups. Didn’t have that game circled on the schedule as one to be chippy, but hey, the Vols did their talking on the field.
7) There’s still hope alive for the SEC East (albeit super slim). The Vols need Lane Kiffin and Ole Miss to clip the Bulldogs in Athens this weekend. Not impossible, but also not likely. However, if that were to happen, the Vols would then control their own destiny to Atlanta for the SEC Championship game.
8) Even if they don’t a gift from Kiffin on Saturday, the challenges coming up the next two weeks will still give the Vols plenty to shoot for and be excited about. Double-digit wins is still firmly on the table. Forcing the barking fans to bark at other fan bases besides Tennessee would be nice. Getting to and winning another major bowl game would be a great achievement.
So buckle up, Vol fans. The final stretch run awaits and will be fun to watch.